December 8, 2021

Belmont’s tale of trips: Rosario a key factor in rise of Sir Winston

Joel Rosario celebrates his Belmont victory aboard Sir Winston (c) NYRA/Coglianese Photography/Brittlan Wall

“That was a great ride by Joel.”

Thus trainer Mark Casse aptly summed up the role played by jockey Joel Rosario in Sir Winston’s Belmont S. (G1) upset. Engineering a ground-saving trip most of the way, Rosario not only spared his mount extra effort in the 1 1/2-mile classic, but he kept him on what had been the most advantageous part of the track for as long as possible.

Contrast that with the task set his star stablemate, Preakness (G1) hero War of Will, and Belmont favorite Tacitus, who endured the two widest trips in the field. According to Trakus, War of Will covered 57 feet more than Sir Winston. Given how he was treading water turning for home, War of Will’s fading all the way back to ninth can’t be attributed simply to ground loss.

Tacitus, however, is a different matter. Navigating 65 feet more than Sir Winston, the Tapit colt was also involved in some scrimmaging with War of Will in upper stretch. Their bumping occurred as Sir Winston was angling out across War of Will’s path, although it appeared to me that Tacitus and War of Will were already getting closer to each other. War of Will bounced around more noticeably – the logical result of being tired by then – but Tacitus was also briefly knocked out of sync by their contact.

By the time Tacitus reorganized and finally got in gear, Sir Winston had cleared away. The Bill Mott pupil gained belatedly to take second, only a length behind the perfect-trip winner.

Sir Winston’s closing kick hadn’t been so effective on the Kentucky Derby (G1) trail, as he’d finished fourth in the Withers (G3), fifth in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2), and a troubled seventh in the speed-favoring Blue Grass (G2). The son of Awesome Again showed greater spark with his second in the May 11 Peter Pan (G3).

While his marked improvement of late reflects the horsemanship of Team Casse, his own maturing as a stamina-laden type, and the move to Belmont Park, the rider switch to Rosario has been a key factor as well.

Assistant trainer Jamie Begg, who takes care of Casse’s barn in New York, explained it well in Sunday’s NYRA notes:

“I think Joel rode the horse beautifully. He has a large hand in him turning the corner. It’s like Mark said in the press conference after the race about Joel’s style, he’ll let those kind of horses, the deep closers, get their feet under them.

“Some guys are a little scared and they worry about what the pace is, and this and that, and Joel always rides his race and doesn’t really care what others are doing. Sometimes that’s the best thing.”

Once a three-year-old begins to progress at that rate, there’s no telling what his ceiling is. And since Sir Winston thrives over a distance, he might well stake his claim in the August 24 Travers (G1) that promises to be the definitive showdown.

But like the Derby and the Preakness, the Belmont ended up being a tale of trips, and that’s why further evidence is required – not only of Sir Winston, but all those with the potential to become the head of the class.

If it’s an unprovable assertion that Tacitus would have won with a kinder passage, it’s a tempting one, and reinforces the point that we need to see the principals square off again.

Mott certainly wants another go:

“I think the horse ran OK. We were the recipient of a wide trip and the winner got a golden trip. I think the trip made the difference. He was wide. He was going fast, and it was probably hard to tell how fast he was going because he was going so wide and was trying to carry himself all the way around everybody. The fact is, he ran well and we can’t do it over.

“Tacitus certainly hasn’t disgraced himself at any point. Even in the Derby, where he was fourth and then was moved up to third, he ran well. And he ran well yesterday. I think most anybody who saw the race yesterday probably knew that with a different trip the outcome would have been different.

“For sure there are a lot of dances left in the second half of the year. I hope there are good things still to come for him…

“I think he’s a nice horse, and with that being said, and hopefully, I’m right, he’ll just get better and better as time goes on.”

The same could be said for several other Triple Crown race veterans, beginning with the Kentucky Derby alumni who haven’t been sighted since.

Maximum Security was best on the day, only to be demoted for interfering with War of Will. Yet to finish behind a horse in his five starts, the Florida Derby (G1) winner is well qualified to regain the podium in the July 20 Haskell (G1). Note Daily Racing Form’s Jim Dunleavy reported Sunday that trainer Jason Servis was ordering bloodwork on Maximum Security, putting his prep run in the June 16 Pegasus (G3) in question. The Haskell remains on his agenda, though, regardless of the Pegasus.

Mott’s Country House, who had the Derby trophy handed to him, might have been on a Sir Winston-like trajectory until illness ruled him out of the ensuing classic races. The closer ran the race of his life in the Run for the Roses, looming menacingly until Maximum Security spurted away again.

Mott, in his update in the NYRA notes, recognizes that Country House and Tacitus will have to clash again in the Travers if not sooner:

“Country House is doing well. He’s isn’t back breezing yet, but he is back galloping and is going to the track every day.

“Keeping them separate is probably going to be impossible. I think that at some point both are going to be running in the same types of races. If they both need to run in a particular race I’m not going to separate them.

“If it’s a prep race or something like it, naturally you’d like to separate them but if it’s a Grade 1 race, if they need to run against each other, it’s like, you know what? You’ve got to be fair to both ownerships and give them their best chance.”

Also not to be forgotten is Game Winner, last year’s champion two-year-old male who was a hopelessly wide, and belated, sixth (elevated to fifth) in one of the gnawing “what might-have-beens” in the 2019 Derby. As well as Rosario fits Sir Winston, I don’t think he has clicked with Game Winner this term.

War of Will, the only one to compete in all three jewels of the Triple Crown, didn’t do himself justice in the Belmont, but Casse rightly commented that he’ll bounce back with the Travers as his aim too:

“I don’t think it was the Triple Crown campaign that caught up to War of Will. I think he was in a good place yesterday. I don’t really have an explanation for his race yesterday, but I’m not going to use the five weeks as an excuse. The only thing I can tell you now is that he will be back.”

The other two wheeling back from the Preakness, Everfast and Bourbon War, also ran poorly in seventh and last, respectively. So as much as I hoped the unlucky Preakness third Owendale would try the Belmont, maybe trainer Brad Cox was right to give him more time and an easier spot, possibly the Ohio Derby (G3) on June 22.

Omaha Beach’s status remains in limbo at this writing, as the scratched Derby favorite continues to recover from surgery for an entrapped epiglottis. But if all goes well, there’s still a theoretical scenario for him to get back in the hunt. Even a truncated fall campaign could be enough to reassert claims should the division remain muddled.

But let’s hope that the Travers brings greater clarity. Considering how closely matched the three-year-olds have been all season, that might be asking a lot.